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ASK MOM: Gaming makes son moody, but he can’t stop

Oct 13, 2023 02:16AM ● By by Mary Follin & Erika Guerrero

Drawing by Suzanne Johnson

THE PROBLEM: I think my 15 yo son is addicted to gaming. Maybe I contributed to it because I let him play as much as he wanted, but other kids who also had unlimited access seem to be able to move on to other things. The problem is, the gaming is destroying him, and this isn’t coming from me. It’s coming from him. He’s so unhappy when he’s not playing, he’s starting to wonder how he’s going to live a ‘normal’ life, like getting a job, having a hobby, and making ‘real’ friends. He says he wants help for this, but I don’t know where to begin. 

MARY SAYS: Your wise son knows—even at his tender age—that he needs help. Please run, don’t walk, to a counselor who works with teens and specializes in addiction. A good therapist can help your son create a healthier relationship with his habits and with himself. But therapy is a process that can take a long time—including finding a therapist who works well with your son—so there’s a lot you’ll want to get started with at home.

To begin with, I’m going to ask you to forgive yourself. It sounds as though you’re taking the blame for what’s going on, but I see a lot to celebrate here. How many teens feel broken, only to suffer in silence, with no one to turn to? You have built an open line of communication with your child, who is now sharing with you how desperate he feels. Without that bond, he may have powered through by himself with potentially disastrous results. 

Because he trusts you, you can work together and create a way forward. 

So what does that look like? Asking (or demanding) that your son go cold turkey and quit playing games altogether is probably not a workable solution. Ask him to help you put together a schedule for playing; perhaps you could create tokens to use, each one gives him 30 minutes of gametime. By having an allotment of tokens to ‘spend’ each week, he can self-regulate his gaming habit.

But it’s more than that. An addiction usually involves something one is trying to escape from, and your son will need to face those demons. Does he feel awkward in social situations? Is he experiencing depressive symptoms? Is he weighed down by all the world’s problems?

While you can’t solve these issues for him, you can listen. Ask probing questions and let him talk. No judgements or advice—unless he asks for it. You can also ask him if he wants your perspective, but please respect a ‘no’ if that’s what you get. Just by giving him a safe space to share what’s on his mind, you’re already on your way to healing—for both of you.

ERIKA SAYS: I'm impressed your son can identify he may have a problem and feels safe enough to come to you for help. That says a lot about your parenting skills and your relationship with your son. Great job to both of you for tackling this as a unit. With your support and the right resources, I feel strongly you’ll be able to get through this—together. 

Video games are entertaining; I can see how easy it is for kids to get sucked in. My son is seven years old, and we have issues with how much time he wants (begs!) to spend on his iPad. At his Dad’s house, he has unlimited access to his electronics, so it can be a real struggle in our home to get him away from feeling like he needs to be consistently on his iPad playing games. 

It’s the first thing he asks for in the morning, and he complains he’s bored without it—as if the iPad is his only form of entertainment. He refuses to go outside to play, and I certainly see decreased creativity and imagination. 

Here are some of the rules we've put in place to help us regulate his unhappiness and usage of video games. 

  • I only let my son play on weekends, and for one hour max at any given time.. 
  • Electronics have to be earned. For example, chores need to be completed before my son can play, and he has to display good behavior (mostly, anyway!). 
  • I don't allow him to play before noon. Occasionally, he will still ask to play first thing in the morning, but for the most part, he understands the expectation. 
  • Check for parental controls on your son's system. For example, my son's Nintendo allows me to set up a timeframe he can play, and after that window closes, the game will shut down. To continue playing, my son must get my permission. 

Start with rules and boundaries at home, but I would search for additional resources like therapy to help you find tools to help your son. Contact parenting groups online and see what's worked for other parents. You could even contact your son's school counselor for local resources or support groups focusing on what could be a behavioral pattern your son is unable to change on his own.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.

 Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective  with parents of younger children. 

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.


Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.

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